Norlllandy Still Invades Public's Psyche
When he volunteered to join the Canadian army at age 15, Dixon Raymond couldn't have known
what he was getting into. Three years later in
June 1944, Raymond would find himselfon
the sands ofJuno Beach, France-not sun-
ning himself as today's newly minted 18-year-
old might, but fighting a war that remains
entrenched in the world's consciousness more
than half-a-century later.
"I went, endured and survived," Raymond
said. The 73-year-old was a member of the
Allied forces who participated in a seminal
event of World War II: the invasion of
Normandy. And like most anyone who takes a
breath these days, he's a discerning but hungry
consumer of the time's history.
Universiry Professor Emeritus Gerhard
Weinberg knows a little about that hunger. He
grew up in. Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and
in 1938 fled to England to live with relatives
until his family was permitted to leave for the
United States. It was at a private boarding
school in England that he decided at age 11 to
become a teacher, inspired by his own remark-
able instructors who brought subjects to life.
"Happenings produce significant outcomes
as things evolve," Weinberg says, and indeed,
his life, first as a Jewish boy in Germany and
then as an American member of the Army
serving in Japan in 1946 and 1947, has been
filled with small happenings and significant
Weinberg and Raymond are contempo-
raries who not only lived through those
moments, but made an impact on them. By
the time Raymond went off to fight Hitler's
abuses, Weinberg had lived a childhood filled
with them. In February, each had a chance to
reflect on them at the GAA's Normandy
Invasion lecture, given by Weinberg, a former
Kenan professor of history at the Universiry
and an expert on World War II.
Raymond, who was one of nearly 50 peo-
ple to sign up for what was approaching a
standing-room-only lecture by Weinberg, said
he had read and enjoyed Weinberg's book A
World at Arms and wanted to hear more in
person. "He seems like a fair historian. I am
interested to see what slant he puts on the
topic," he said.
The lecture, which preceded an alumni
travel program, received an enormous
response from the public anticipating it and
had to be moved to a larger room to accom-
modate all participants.
Josh Cohen-Peyrot, GAA program assistant,
said many of the participants had personal
WWII experiences. "A lot of the people who
signed up were alive, maybe even fighting,
A familiar scene from Normandy: American soldiers on the coast of France, June 6, 1944.
during the war," he said. "Tllis is a topic that is
very inlportant for that generation."
Weinberg said there could be many reasons
for the large response to the lecture, but that a
major one was indeed the personal
experiences or experiences offamily and friends.
"Sixteen million Americans served in World
War II," he said."They are now fathers and
grandfathers, and tell their stories."
ffThe Normandy Invasion
was the only way
for the Western Allies
to strike at the heart
of the Nazi empire ..."
Also, people born well after World War II
are interested in the invasion because it shaped
the rest of the war.
"The Normandy Invasion was the only
way for the Western Allies to strike at the
heart of the Nazi empire and have a say in the
defeat of Germany and the rebuilding of
Europe," he said. "They had to get to Germany,
and crossing the Alps or the eastern mountains
would not have worked. They had to cross the
Media also have sparked an interest,
Weinberg said. Movies such as Saving Private
Ryan and A TIlin R ed Line, as well as autobi-ographies and television programs, work to
reinforce existing interests and create new
ones. NBC newsanchor Tom Brokaw's book,
TIle Greatest Generation, and its smaller but no-less-touching offspring, The Greatest Generation.
Speaks, also have been hits with history buffs
and novices alike.
And Weinberg, certainly, is a big reason for
the lecture's populariry. He taught 20th cen-
tury history, courses on the war and several
senlinars at the Universiry, nearly always to
Fortunately, he also was a rather disagreeable graduate student with strong and unwa-
vering opinions in the late 1940s and early
1950s. His fanlily, once dispatched to the
States, settled in Albany, N. Y, and Weinberg
attended the New York State College for
Teachers after his discharge from the U.S.
Army. He had planned to study 19th-century
history when he enrolled for a post-graduate
degree at the Universiry of Cllicago, but
because ofsome fundamental differences of
opinion between Weinberg and the ptofessor
he was to work under regarding the German
empire architect Otto von Bismarck, he realized it wouldn't work. "I either had to change
universiry or century, and because ofthe limited anlount of money from the G.r. Bill, I
could not afford to change universiry," he said.
"You can say I got into 20th-century history
Just another one of those small happenings,
with a sigllificant outcome.
M arcil / April 2000